By request, here is a short movie showing the process of making the long sticks. This is almost identical to the technique shown in “The Stick Chair Book.” The only difference is a change to the sequence of cuts in Stage 1.
Using planes to make chair sticks is not my invention – not by a longshot. I first learned to do it this way in “Welsh Stick Chairs” by John Brown. The only difference is I’m doing it on a low workbench. JB put a stop in his machinist vise for this operation.
I never thought this process was weird (what was really odd to me was doing it with the Ashem Crafts trapping and rotary planes). The goal with this handplane technique is to use bench tools and not have to purchase a drawknife, spokeshave and shavehorse. If you have these tools, ignore me.
I am always looking for a faster way to make the 26”-long sticks that make up the backrests of my chairs. Making the 12-1/2”-long short sticks is easy. I can bang one out in a minute or two with a block plane.
But the long sticks have a complicated shape. They have a 5/8” tenon at the bottom. Then the stick swells to 3/4” and goes back down to 5/8” along the next 8”. I have to get the swelling exactly right because the stick wedges in a 5/8” mortise in the arm and supports the arm from below. Finally the stick tapers to 1/2” at its tip.
I first learned to make long sticks with a drawknife and shavehorse. Then I was taught to use “trapping planes” on a lathe. Finally, I settled on using a jack plane and block plane. These were tools I already had an intimate relationship with. And I don’t need a shavehorse.
The process to make long sticks that’s outlined in “The Stick Chair Book” is one I have used for many years and is pretty fast. But during the last few months I have been experimenting with different combinations of strokes to see if I can speed the plow. The following process cuts my stick-making time in half. That cuts almost an hour off the time I need to make a chair.
Note that when I make sticks using planes, I skew the planes significantly (about 30°) to speed their cutting action.
As mentioned above, I use a jack plane and block plane to make my long sticks. I place a little stop block in a vise so it is 1/2” above the jaws of the vise. Or I use a planing block (shown in the photos) that is 1/2″ tall. I press the tip of the stick against the stop with one hand and push the plane with the other. The weight of the jack plane keeps it in the cut.
My long sticks begin as 3/4” x 3/4” x 26” octagons of straight hardwood. The work is divided into three stages.
I hold the tenon with one hand and the jack plane with the other. I make two tapering strokes with the jack plane. The first begins about 13” from the tip of the stick. The second begins back at my left hand. I make this pair of strokes three times without rotating the stick. This creates a significant flat on the stick. And by the third set of strokes, the jack is a little difficult to push.
Then I rotate the stick until an arris (aka a corner) is facing up. Then I repeat the above strokes – making the arris into a wide flat. Then I rotate the stick again. I keep stroking and rotating until the stick’s tip is about 5/8” in diameter – or about 1/8” above the 1/2”-tall stop in my vise.
Then I enter Stage 2
Stage 2 is simple. It is just full-length strokes on the stick – from my hand (still holding the tenon) to the tip. I start on an arris and take three strokes, again making a flat. Then I rotate the stick until an arris faces up. Then three more strokes to flatten it. Rotate. Repeat.
I keep this pattern up until the tip of the stick is 1/2” in diameter and does not stick up above the stop in the vise.
That’s when I enter Stage 3.
I turn the stick around and press the tenon against the stop in the vise. Then I use a block plane to taper the bottom of the long stick down to the tenon. I do this by making quick, short cuts and rotating the stick. This work is quick.
Then I turn the stick around again, pushing its tip against the stop in the vise, and I clean up the top part of the stick, making sure it is round and the facets are nice and even.
I check my work by dropping the long stick into a mortise in my armbow. The stick should get wedged with about 8” of the stick (plus the 1-1/4” tenon) showing. If I need to remove more material, I remove the stick from the arm and shave it more with the block plane. Look for arrises and smooth them out.
This might not be the fastest way to make sticks, but it’s the fastest way I know of today.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Why don’t I turn my sticks on a lathe? I don’t have a steady-rest or any other equipment that could make this work. I prefer to work with bench tools when making chairs in order to keep my tool kit as small as possible. Plus, I’m a fairly lame turner.
This cherry stick chair – one of my favorite designs – is for sale this week via a drawing. If you are interested in purchasing it, please read on.
This chair – built using black cherry from the Ohio River valley – is influenced by many gorgeous Welsh examples I have inspected during my travels. But I wouldn’t call it Welsh – it has far too much Kentucky DNA.
The chair’s seat is 16-7/8” from the floor. The overall height of the comb is 38-5/8”. The dramatic rake and splay of the chair’s legs make it ideal for a fireside, but the seat and back angle (14°) make it completely usable as a chair at a desk or dining table as well.
Thanks to the position of the armbow and comb, this chair provides nice lumbar support as well as supporting the shoulders. It is comfortable for a good long sit.
All the joints are assembled with hide glue, which allows the chair to be repaired many years in the future. All through-tenons are wedged with white oak. The finish is an organic beeswax and linseed oil finish, which is free of harmful solvents. This finish is easily repaired, should it ever become scratched or damaged.
All the chair’s parts have been split and sawn so the grain is as straight and strong as possible.
Purchasing the Chair
This chair is being sold via a drawing. The chair is $1,400 plus domestic shipping. (I’m sorry but the chair cannot be shipped outside the U.S.) If you wish to buy the chair, send an email to email@example.com before 5 p.m. (Eastern) on Thursday, Dec. 30. In the email please include your:
First name and last name
U.S. shipping address
Daytime phone number (this is for the trucking quote only)
After all the emails have arrived on Dec. 30, we will pick a winner that evening via a random drawing.
If you are the “winner,” the chair can be picked up at our storefront for free. Or we can ship it to you via common carrier. The crate is included in the price of the chair. Shipping a chair usually costs between $150 and $250, depending on your location.
Selling a chair via a drawing is one of the ways I’m trying to balance fairness and price. I want my chairs to be affordable to as many people as possible. But I also need to feed my family. So we are experimenting with a variety of methods to find ones that make both customers and me happy.
A reader found an error in the full-size patterns for “The Stick Chair Book.” Here’s the fix.
The plans for the Six-stick Comb-Back were scaled down slightly by the printer. None of the other five patterns are scaled down – they are correct. We’re not sure how this happened, but oh well. The patterns for the six-stick chair show the seat at 19” wide instead of 20”. The other parts on that page are also scaled down slightly.
Ignore the error. The slight scaling won’t change the chair much. I’ve made chairs with narrower seats with no problem.
Download an unscaled pattern for free via this link. Get it printed out at your local reprographics firm. And next time you’re in town I’ll buy you a coffee or beer to make up for the added expense.
Use the seat pattern for the lowback instead. It is the same size and shape. The legs are in the same place. The spindles on the seat are the same space apart (3” on centers). The only thing you’ll have to do is step off one more spindle on both sides of the spindle deck.
After I first wrote about Roubo-style workbenches in 2005, I was often asked: “Why do you hate the Euro-style workbench so much?”
The answer is that I don’t “hate” any style of workbench, chair, cabinet or chamber pot. The only things I truly despise are flimsy, mass-manufactured versions of workbenches, tools, chairs, pants, door knockers, toilet-seat covers or cabinets.
Poorly made, disposable goods are a drain on our world. I have nothing good to say about them.
Now when it comes to issues of taste, it’s not a matter of hate or love. There’s what I like, and there’s what you like. I respect and admire a lot of furniture that I would never, ever put in my home. Things like high-style, 18th-century American furniture, or a large swath of royal stuff that is beautifully made but leaves me dead inside.
When I respect something but wouldn’t own it, I’m going to bust its chops. Tease it. Make gentle fun of it. And so I should probably print the following sentence like a government health warning for cigarettes in every book I write.
Warning! Fancy, high-style, breeches-spats-and-Tally-Ho furniture will be admired – but mocked – for being a little bit too far up its own butt cheeks.
And, to be fair, it doesn’t bother me at all when people mock the furniture I like. Plain. Boring. Awkward. Weird. Odd. Ugly.
Sure, I see that. Bring it on.
With the publication of “The Stick Chair Book,” I’ve been asked: “Why do you hate Forest (Windsor) Chairs so much?”
I’m certain you can now predict my answer to this question.
I adore well-made Forest Chairs. I dig their weird, bulbous turnings. Their convoluted seat shapes. Their tarted-up carvings and backsplats. Their… oh you get it.